The Priority of the Cross

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 10:34-42, “The Priority of the Cross”

You can tell a lot about a person during a time of crisis.  When things are peaceful, and perhaps somewhat normal, it’s easy for a person to fake things.  Jazz musicians often use what’s called a “fake” book when on a gig.  Fake books have hundreds of songs, usually only with the basic melody line included & the chord changes listed out.  The musician can then figure out how to play the song on a gig, even if they’re only vaguely familiar with the tune…they “fake” their way through.  In everyday life when a person “fakes” their actions, they gloss over issues that might otherwise upset them & to change their day around as needed to make it all work out.  But in a crisis, there’s no “faking.”  It’s in the time of crisis, when things clarify quite a bit.  In those times, someone’s priorities truly shine through as they respond to what’s going on around them.  You see what really matters to them as what’s most important rises to the top.

Jesus has been describing a time of crises to the 12 apostles.  As Ch 10 began, the twelve were mentioned by name, and given a mission by the Lord Jesus to go all throughout Judea proclaiming the gospel, and backing up the claims of the gospel with miracles of healing, exorcism, and more.  What Jesus had done in His Galilean ministry, the 12 apostles were to do as well.  They weren’t to charge for their services, but rather go from town to town all over the land of Israel and look for the places and people that were willing to receive them.

All of that sounds great until Jesus makes it very clear that there would be many places that were not willing at all.  Persecutions would be expected in their ministry, and Jesus not only warned the 12 apostles, but warned all of the Church of the sufferings that would come to those who are associated with Christ.  Jesus didn’t sugarcoat anything, but He wanted to fully prepare us for what we are to face.  It’s simply a fact that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  That said, God does not leave us alone in the midst of it.  He empowers us through the Holy Spirit to face the suffering, and He relentlessly encourages us to be fearless in our bold witness of Jesus.  No matter what happens in our lives, we can be assured that God is sovereign & that God loves us.  Those who fear God have no reason to fear the world, so we can confess Christ openly, just as He did for us.

As Jesus wraps up the commissioning of the apostles, He underscores the idea that there will be suffering for those who follow Christ.  Even families will be turned against one another, as Jesus had said earlier (Mt 10:21-22).  But though families might divide because of Christ, Jesus still calls us to have Christ as our singular priority.  In the time of ultimate personal crisis, Jesus is still to rise to the top of our list because He is worth it all.  This is the message that Jesus needs the disciples to take all over the land of Israel.  The people need to know: those who receive Jesus as their priority receive Jesus’ reward.

Matthew 10:34–42 (NKJV)
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.

  • Objection: “Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus brings peace?!”  The prophets called Jesus the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6).  The angels heralded Jesus’ birth with a message of peace (Lk 2:14).  Paul writes that Jesus makes peace between Jew and Gentile as He makes one Church because He Himself is our peace (Eph 2:14).  If Jesus brings all of this peace, how can He say that He did not come to bring peace?  It all depends on your perspective.  Jesus’ death and resurrection certainly makes it possible for us to have peace with God.  (Prior to faith in Christ, our sin caused us to be at enmity/war against God [Rom 8:7] – it’s only by the shedding of Jesus’ blood that we have peace.)  That’s the relationship between us and God – but what about our relationship between one another?  Jesus certainly calls us to love one another, and to do good works towards one another, but there’s no getting around the fact that our faith in Christ will divide us from other people.  Jesus doesn’t call us to pick up the sword, but there certainly is a symbolic sword that divides born-again Christians from the rest of the world, in terms of pure division.  How could it be otherwise?  There’s a fundamental difference between Christians & non-Christians.  Christians are born of the Holy Spirit whereas non-Christians are not.  There simply cannot help but be division between the two.
  • Note the intentionality here.  The Prince of Peace purposefully brings division.  (DA Carson) “V 34 is in striking contrast to 5:9 [“Blessed are the peacemakers…”]; there are some things which are more important even than peace.”  Obviously Jesus knows that not everyone will be converted.  There will be families that are split in two because of the gospel of Jesus.  Jesus has no intention that those who follow Him would deny the division just for the sake of making a pretense at “peace.”  That kind of “peace” is false.  People would claim, “But it’s just compromise, so that we can all get along.  Just don’t talk about your faith, and everything will be just fine.”  That’s not compromise; that’s denial of who you are.  True compromise would be if both parties gave up something, but when a Christian is typically asked to “compromise,” the only person compromising is the Christian as they hide their testimony.  Jesus didn’t come for that kind of peace; He puts a sword straight through the heart of it.
  • What Jesus’ division looks like…

35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’

  • Jesus is quoting the prophet Micah.  Micah 7:6–7, "(6) For son dishonors father, Daughter rises against her mother, Daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; A man’s enemies are the men of his own household. (7) Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me." []  The original prophecy was given in regards to Israel’s sins.  God warned the people of the punishment He was bringing in regards to the many evil things they had done.  Judges were taking bribes, government leaders were perverting justice, and family members had turned against one another.  Because of all these things, Micah knew that the only solution was through the intervention of God.  Jesus takes these words a step further.  Now the people would not merely turn against one another due to their sin, but they’d turn against each other due to someone’s commitment to Christ.
  • Normally we think of Jesus bringing people (and family members) together.  After all, a child who follows Christ as Savior and Lord will normally be more respectful to his/her parents, attempting to honor them according to the 5th Commandment.  The parent who comes to Christ will normally look upon his/her children with more compassion and try to instruct them with more gentleness than what they would have done otherwise.  Where does all of this division come from?
  • Typically the division doesn’t come from the converted, but the unconverted.  Family members who have long known their loved one in one way or according to one religion all of a sudden finds all of their past thrown out on its ear.  Everything changes in a moment when a person receives the forgiveness of Jesus & their spirit is literally born anew by the work of God.  If we think that’s a big change for us to experience, surely it’s a big change for those who have known us!  Drinking buddies are dissolved, religious ties are broken, and those who cared nothing for “Bible thumping Jesus freaks” suddenly have one living in their own house with them.  That’s a huge change!  No wonder people are set against one another.
  • And yet, this is the very reason Jesus came.  As the gospel comes into a family, there will be some families that are all converted; there will be others that are not.  Praise God for the instances when everyone receives Christ!  Yet we also praise God for the instances in which anyone receives Christ.  If that means that a family is split, then so be it…at least someone knows Christ & that family now has a witness to the saving gospel of grace.  Someone saved is better than no one.  The call of Christ goes out to all the world – our prayer is that as many would respond as possible…even if that means a family division.  Eternity is worth the temporary pain of division.

37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

  • Question: Is Jesus saying that we’re not supposed to love our families?  Of course not.  Elsewhere, the Bible is absolutely clear that husbands and wives are to love one another, and it’s impossible to get a right picture of parenting unless we look at the love that God the Father has for God the Son. … Families are definitely supposed to love each other!  So what is Jesus saying?  It’s not a matter of not loving our parents or children at all; it’s a matter of loving Jesus more.
  • The purpose of division = the priority of Christ.  Whom do we love more?  Whom do we love most?  For the Christian, there can only be one answer: the Lord Jesus Christ.  Keep in mind this goes against the very grain of our culture.  Our culture is perfectly fine with people sacrificing everything for their kids (it’s virtually expected that we do so), or sacrificing everything for our dreams, or various other things.  Yet to value Christ Jesus above all these things seems downright nutty to the world!  Try walking into a daycare & saying that you love Jesus more than you love your kids, and people will proclaim you to be a terrible parent.  “How dare you hold up Jesus in a higher place than our kids?!  Don’t you know it’s your job to sacrifice everything for them?”  Actually, it’s not.  When our kids take that sort of position in our lives, that’s called idolatry.  Our children are highly valued, but they cannot take a higher place than God.  A healthy married household has the priorities of (1) God, (2) spouse, (3) children, (4) everything else…in that order.  Anything else is idolatrous or dysfunctional.
  • Why does Jesus take the highest priority?  Because Jesus is Lord.  “Lord” is not merely a title with no meaning…to call Jesus our “Lord” is to call Him our Master & our King.  If you served an earthly king, you would likely be sworn under oath to do his bidding to the point of laying down your life in battle if he so asked.  His desires would take priority over any family commitments you may have had – when the king gives an order, it’s simply to be obeyed.  Jesus is our Lord & King…not out of oppression, but out of sacrifice and love.  He bought us with His blood – we owe literally everything to Him.  Thus what He says takes the highest priority, period.  If that means our unbelieving spouse has a problem with what the Bible says, then so be it.  If that means our unbelieving children don’t like taking a back-seat to Jesus, then that’s just the way it is.  Jesus has our utmost loyalty.
    • Some of you know what it means to have family reject you because you follow Christ.  Know that Jesus is not blind to that fact, and that in abandoning all to follow Jesus, you have done exactly what He wants you to do.

38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

  • The extent of Jesus’ priority – it goes even unto death.  There ought to be no mistake that when Jesus spoke of someone’s personal “cross,” He wasn’t using a literary device or exaggeration.  We tend to think of “carrying our cross” in terms of some sort of personal burden that we believe we have to bear.  We might not like the circumstances we’re in, but we know we need to “carry our cross” for Jesus, and so we put up under the temporary pressures and discomfort.  Most certainly, that is NOT what Jesus refers to.  To speak of the cross to a person living within the 1st century Roman empire is to speak of a torturous device of execution.  It is to speak of death, doled out in one of the most horrendous ways ever conceived.  Jesus certainly is speaking of an extreme, but He is not speaking of exaggeration.  He’s saying very clearly that the person who is not prepared to die for Jesus is not worthy of Jesus.
  • “Is this really the standard?!”  Yes.  We have to be willing to leave everything behind & follow even up to the point of death.  Jesus would say this many times to the disciples (Mt 16:24-25, Lk 9:23-24, Lk 14:27).  It’s not a truth we can get away from or water down.  What He’s talking about here is 100% total commitment.  Now of course, if we’re being honest with ourselves, very few of us are ever 100% committed to Christ 100% of the time (every second of every day).  Are then all of us lost?  No.  We’re saved fully by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, through His death & resurrection, not by any ability (or inability) we have to commit ourselves to following after Him.  The question is: what happens when push comes to shove?  The person who is truly saved by Jesus Christ will not renounce Him in the day of crisis.  The person who has been indwelt with the Holy Spirit will not turn back from following Jesus when times get rough.  How could we?  As the ancient martyr & Church Father Polycarp said as the logs were about to be set fire around him, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?”  Truly that is an example of taking up one’s cross and following after Jesus!
    • Question: “Is what Jesus saying only demonstrated by those who might be physically martyred for the faith?  Most Christians in the United States have little to no chance of actually being killed for Christ – is it even possible for us to pick up our cross and follow Christ?”  Yes.  It’s not that we have to actually face death, but we need to ask ourselves if we would be willing to do so.  If you’re not sure, then I implore you to examine your faith before the Lord Jesus today!
  • Jesus doesn’t ask of us what He hasn’t already demonstrated.  This is exactly what He did for us.  Jesus most certainly (and literally) picked up His cross as He perfectly obeyed His Father’s will.  He died the most brutal of deaths, and He was the one who least deserved to die – but He did it in your place & in mine.  He loved you enough to pick up His cross.  When we do the same by His grace & His power, we are simply following in His well-trod footsteps.
  • There is a cost to discipleship.  Christianity is changeless, but it isn’t a “change-less” religion.  Too many people treat Christianity as an accessory to their life, rather than the foundation of their life.  They think that they can take the label of “Christian” to themselves simply because that’s what’s expected of them, or because their family were “Christians,” or because they wouldn’t consider themselves to be Buddhist or Muslim or anything else (which means they must be Christians, right?) – yet their supposed Christianity never changes them.  Their habits never change, their actions never change, their desires never change, nothing about their life has ever changed except the label they put on themselves.  That’s NOT Christianity.  Christianity that doesn’t change a life is a Christianity without Christ – a purely false conversion.  When someone hears the gospel of Jesus and truly receives Jesus as their Lord & Savior, a very specific change happens: their old life DIES.
    • That’s not to say that we don’t struggle with our old lives, habits, and desires.  We’re going to struggle against those temptations and junk until the day we die.  But it’s the fact we KNOW those are the things we struggle against that reassures us of the good work that Jesus has done in our lives!  Thus we crucify our flesh daily and die to the people we used to be as we continually follow after Christ.  Romans 6:11–13, "(11) Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (13) And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." []  Continually count your old man dead – pick up your cross & leave your old life behind as you walk behind your Savior!

39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

  • What happens when we take up our cross for Christ and put our old life to death?  There awaits a reward greater than anything we could have possibly given up!  Those who lose their life for the sake of Christ will truly find life – more abundantly than we can ever imagine.
  • Notice the qualification: “he who loses his life for My sake.”  We need to lose our life for the sake of the Lord Jesus, or we’ve wasted our time.  There are many people who fully devote themselves to their false religion.  There are many people who give up everything for their careers.  There are people who give up everything for their families.  They may have sacrificed everything they had – but does a reward await them?  Not in eternity.  It is only the person who loses his life for Jesus that finds life eternal & abundant.
  • Don’t miss the first part of what Jesus is saying here: “He who finds his life will lose it.”  To find your life here on earth is a sure guarantee of losing your life in eternity.  This is just as much of a promise as the 2nd part of Jesus’ teaching.

40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.

  • Jesus has taught much about how the apostles may or may not be received in a particular city or town, and the persecution they might face.  Now He starts to bring things to a close and sum up.
  • What does it mean to “receive” someone/something?  Jesus uses the word 8 times in 2 verses – this must be a pretty important concept!  To do a word study in the Greek, we find out something very interesting: it means “receive.” J  As a person accepts a gift or a message, they “receive” it – that’s exactly what’s being spoken of here.  It’s more than just physically hearing the message of the gospel proclaimed by the apostles, it’s the person who receives that message personally…the person who accepts the truth of what was said.  There are a lot of people who hear the gospel that never receive it; Jesus makes it clear that reception/acceptance of the message is what makes the difference.
  • To get what Jesus is saying here, be sure to get the pronouns identified properly.  “He” = the person to whom the apostle is sharing the gospel.  “You” = the apostles (the people to whom Jesus was speaking).  “Me” = Christ, “Him who sent Me” = God the Father.  For all of the various people in the towns that would reject the apostles & their message, there would be others who would gladly receive it.  The people who gladly & faithfully received the apostles were in essence gladly receiving Christ, and thus also gladly receiving God the Father.  To receive the gospel message is to receive Jesus Himself.
  • There’s an unspoken corollary here.  If someone was to reject the gospel message, then it follows that they also reject Jesus & His Father.  This may be news for a lot of people.  So many folks think that they can have a fine relationship with God, but they don’t want anything to do with the gospel of the kingdom (the message that Jesus is the King & that He has come).  The problem is, it doesn’t work that way.  Someone simply CANNOT have a good relationship with God if they do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  The way to receive the Father as your God is to receive Jesus as your Lord, and that only comes by receiving the gospel message as your own.
    • Have you received it (the gospel of the kingdom)?  Have you received Jesus as the King?  Those that receive Jesus, God gives the right to become children of God, to those that believe in His name (Jn 1:12).

41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.

  • This is what it looks like to receive the gospel message (the good news) of Jesus Christ by receiving Jesus into your life as Savior, God, and King.  With reception of the message comes reception of the reward.  The apostles were bringing the message of the gospel, and of course those who had faith in Christ had their reward of eternal life assured for each one of them.  They were acting in the role of the prophet & the righteous man.  For those who received their message & received the apostles gladly, they would receive the same reward that the apostles received.  They partook in the same reward because they had received of the same promises.
  • It’s no different with us.  The gospel message the apostles were sent out with is the same gospel message we share today.  Those who receive that message (via the messenger) partake in the same reward.
  • What’s the reward?  Contextually, Jesus has been talking about abundant, eternal life that is available to those who leave everything behind to follow Him.  That seems to be the reward spoken of here.  To be sure, there will be reward given to every believer in Christ at the glorious Bema Seat Judgment, and there will be crowns given to believers for various things (life, righteousness).  But those physical rewards don’t seem to be in view here as much as the simple reward of eternal and abundant life with Christ.  Jesus IS our grand reward.  Those who receive Him as King instantly receive of His reward!

42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

  • At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is telling the apostles to demonstrate love even in the little things, by passing out a cup of cold water in the name of Christ.  It’d be easy to look at this verse as a teaching on the importance of showing compassion to one another (which Jesus certainly does teach at other times), but be sure to look carefully at what Jesus is saying here.  Who are the “little ones”?  Contextually, He’s referring to the apostles.  His audience has not changed since Mt 10:5 where we’re specifically told that Jesus was speaking to the 12 (who had just been named).  In addition, the “reward” in the past two sentences spoke of a reward given to a person who received the message of the apostles; there’s no reason to think that the recipient of the reward changes here to the apostles themselves.  Also, Jesus doesn’t say that the cup of water is given out in the name of Christ, but in the name of a “disciple,” speaking of someone who is following Christ.  To put it all together, Jesus describes the act of someone who hears the gospel because of the disciples, and has compassion upon the disciples because of their message (shown by giving them cool refreshing water for their journey).  It’s this person who is assured of his/her reward.
  • How do we know when someone has truly responded to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ by receiving Jesus as his/her Lord?  When they respond with the love and compassion of Christ.  Love is the evidence of faith.  1 John 3:14, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." []  Do we love the Church?  Do we have a love for other Christians borne out of what Jesus Christ has done for us?  That’s one of the evidences of the saving work of Jesus within us.  Even the smallest act of compassion done unto other believers is pleasing to our Lord & Savior & a demonstration of His love.
  • Don’t lose/miss out on the reward available to you!  Receive the glorious good news of the gospel, passed down to us through the ages – believe that Jesus truly is God the flesh, the King of all the Universe & surrender your life to Him.  And then let Jesus change you!

So what’s your priority?  Maybe you’re in a time of crisis now, and you’re learning very quickly what things in your life are most important.  Or maybe things are a bit easier for you right now, but you definitely wonder if Jesus truly is your highest priority.  Now is definitely the time to deal with these issues before Almighty God.  The apostles were being sent forth with the glorious gospel of the kingdom of heaven: the good news that the King had come & the King is Jesus Christ.  Those who would receive Jesus as their priority would receive Jesus as their reward.

The same is true for every one of us who continually hears the good news of the gospel.  Those who receive Jesus as their priority receives Jesus as our reward.  Those who have left everything behind to follow Jesus as their Lord & King have found that they received the greatest reward through the life we have in Christ.  Life abundantly now – and life eternally in the future.  Jesus’ abundant life now means that we have strength in our storms, power to face our trials, joy in times of sorrow, a companion who never leaves us nor forsakes us, and a grand mediator before God (among many other things).  Jesus’ eternal life in the future is joy unspeakable in the presence of Almighty God.  No more death, crying, or sorrow – every sin forgiven, and every temptation of sin forever removed from our presence.  Perfect fulfillment as we worship God in exactly the way we were created to do so.

These are the promises available to every believer in Jesus.  Christian, surely that is worth all of the suffering and more!  Whether it be persecution, or family division because of the gospel, Jesus is worth it all.  If you’ve been rejected by family & friends, take comfort.  You have a Lord who was also rejected, but has been exalted to the place higher than any other.


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